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April 10, 1996

The Cherry Blossom Special

Dear Neighbors:

Just a quick reminder. I'm still looking for more discussion of the District's Public School System. What are the real problems? Or does everyone on this list have kids in private schools? (That was MEANT to provoke.)

Also, in our continuing PBS-style begathon, we are still pushing for new subscribers. Please pass this message along to friends. Tell them the subscription is free and they just have to send a message to me at to subscribe.


Jeffrey Itell


Retrocession and Statehood

Call me kibitzer, but Sam Smith's seven points against retrocession are too delicious to ignore, so it's refutation time. Starting out of order, I note his point 5 suggests, quote, "the original grant [of DC by Maryland] to the feds was probably illegal..." Being something of a strict constructionist, I have long suspected liberals yearn to prove the Constitution of the United States is illegal; now I have the proof! As Article I of same grants Congress the power to take possession of a district to use for the federal capital, and Maryland ratified same, we can dispense with that argument. Sam's argument that "[Maryland] has no residual right" to DC ignores the precedent for retrocession established when Virginia reclaimed Arlington from Uncle Sam a century and a half ago, which is long enough to consider the matter settled. Come on Sam, do all modern "progressives" ignore history so badly? I wouldn't be so rude were you not so cavalier about wanting honorable citizens of the city to "leave quietly" instead of debating the merits of DC joining MD.

Points 1-3 are that DC residents can leave on their own, Maryland doesn't want DC and DC doesn't want to go. One and three beg the question and 2 could be subject to negotiations, as noted by the kibitzer in the past.

Point 4, that DC could link up with another state than Maryland, is false. The US Constitution forbids giving part of one state to another without the consent of the state surrendering the real estate. Since DC couldn't go elsewhere without Maryland's consent, there's no point in talking to anyone else. (We could have a fascinating discussion about the fun we could have redrawing the Union to allow more noncontiguous states as we did the one and only time with Massachusetts-Maine, dating back to colonial times, but, sorry Sam, I'll skip it for now.)

Point 6 implies New York City's relations with Albany prove it's no picnic for a city to be part of a state. Yes, Sam, I'll concede the point. And I'll add to it: Being a Republican, let me assure you that sharing the same country with a party which deliberately ignores the lies, hypocrisies abuses of power, corruption, constitutional violations, etc of the Clintons is no picnic. Moreover, city and country folk tangle politically all across the USA, not to mention Yankees and unreconstructed Southerners, and various religious and ethnic blocs. But, somehow, democracy manages to work and we move on. Come on now, Sam, democracy is supposed to be messy! If you want your politics to be peaceful and quiet, move to North Korea or China. But New York City and New York state have coexisted for two centuries under the Constitution and DC will learn to do the same with Annapolis.

Point 7: Sam would "rather apologize for Marion Barry than for Marvin Mandel and Spiro Agnew." Sam, we get the point that you prefer residence in DC to Washington, MD and that is your privilege. But I fail to understand how you can complain about the original separation of the district from the Maryland of 1790, with "about the most progressive [constitution] in America at the time," then defend the status quo by comparing modern scoundrels. Political corruption, like mosquitos and noisy democratic debate, is always with us, at least in the USA. It is no excuse for ignoring the best solution to DC's lack of representation in Congress and continuing crisis in finances and proper self-government.

I live in Virginia and it's not my decision. But DC is my nation's capital and I want it to do better.

Tom Matthes


Ever look at Toronto? A city that works where the affluent don't flee for the low tax, low crime suburbs and where inner city ethnic communities not only survive but flourish. The reason is simple: the metropolitan tax authority. Admittedly easier in a system like Canada's than the U.S. is the creation of a geographically broad tax authority that covers both city and suburbs. You can't run away unless you want to run a damn long way.

Mike Gudger


The one dollar toll was an April Fools Day joke from radio station 94.7. This was not real. Please reassure your co-workers.

Catherine Lancaster


At a distance of 3,000 miles I may have missed something (has the entire legislature in Annapolis become deranged, for instance?), but it seems to me that retrocession is a wild fantasy that will never come to pass. I think Maryland would secede from the union before it would take in the District. Does anyone really imagine that the voters in Frederick and Havre de Grace, let alone the refugees in Bethesda and Rockville, would willingly accept the burden?

I don't think statehood works either, for reasons others have stated. To me the only sensible solution--probably also a wild fantasy but infinitely justified--is partial forgiveness of Federal income taxes for District residents. Why does this work?

1) It can be justified in historical terms, as has been pointed out many times. The Declaration of Independence, while it has no legal force now, set a precedent for denouncing taxation without representation.

2) It has worked elsewhere. During the years when West Berlin was an island of political limbo and relative democracy amid East German communism, West German Federal taxes were waived for residents and businesses. The net effect was that individuals and corporations flocked to West Berlin in droves. If the same thing happened in the District, Washington would be able to rebuild its middle class and the tax base would grow exponentially. Corporations based in Vienna and Arlington would be enticed out of their buildings overlooking the city and actually move back across the river. Local taxes might still be high, but the District would still seem a bargain. The increased income could be used to rebuild the city and put away a nest egg for the future. Further, the District's economy could be fundamentally restructured, so its current problems would never recur.

3) It would encourage greater involvement by an apathetic populace. Fear of losing the tax break--which would probably have to happen eventually--would force city residents to take an active role in governance, preventing an unscrupulous mayor from, say, building a freeway that goes nowhere, or letting only his friends rebuild it at inflated cost, or maintaining a senseless Boxing and Wrestling Commission (for crying out loud) or even from getting elected in the first place.

4) It's an honest solution. It maintains the District's integrity and keeps it from being used as a political football by the states around it--at least overtly. They might be angry if District residents become entitled to tax breaks that their own residents don't enjoy, but they should be happier still when a safer, healthier District evolves on their borders--which will *save* them money, since the District's expensive crime problems will no longer bleed into the suburbs. And, of course, they won't have to hear about the latest ludicrous plans for a commuter tax.

Of course nothing comes free. I think the tax break could only be granted in return for a restructuring of the city's governance structure. Washington has demonstrated conclusively that it's incapable of governing itself without help from outside. The District's willingness to orient its politics around a racial Cold War is truly disgraceful and has got to change, or no taxation or governance structure in creation is going to save it.

Robert Shepard The Robert E. Shepard Agency, San Francisco


Actually, the key problem is that we've strayed too far from the intent of the Framers and suffer from the accumulated errors of a giveaway Congress. Yes, that giveaway moved half the District to Virginia, so they pay a commuter tax to support inner cities in Norfolk and Richmond, and don't much support metropolitan infrastructure where they actually commute. This Congress should return to the basics.

Yes, sir, the Framers knew what they were doing when they created a 10-mile square for the capital of a 4-million nation. They made a metropolis with room to grow and support itself, containing much farmland to keep the capital in touch with the rest of largely rural America ... and to provide space for forts to guard against outside invaders. Bring back the cows to our borders, say I. Make us look more like America again. Now, we don't actually need a capital 80 miles on a side for a nation of 260 million people, but we do need to bring the Pentagon back into the District fold, under direct control of Congress. Actually, we need to discipline the entire inside-the-Beltway crowd to understand what it's like in the nation at large, and we probably should have the airports in the city, just like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. So about 30 miles on a side should do it. Then those pointy heads will know what it's like out there. And the virtual forts will no longer be erected at the boundaries of the inner city to keep benighted poor folk away from the high-tech jobs and the good schools.

Of course, no one in this capital construct will want to give up their vote. So maybe we'll see the fruition of what the Framers fought for in their just- finished taxation without representation. This new population would be less threatening to the Congressmen from rural and suburban areas who love to serve on the District Committee. It would be less, ahem, pigmentally overendowed in the sight of those inclined to pay attention to those things. And less likely to opt for the politically incorrect Perpetual wing of the Democratic party.

Randall R. Bovbjerg


The frequent criticisms of the District made by some milquetoast "activists" who contribute to this column may very well be true. But all the savings, lay-offs, streamlinings, shut downs, furloughs and other financial austerity measures proposed by the Barry administration or the control board STILL cannot compensate for a budget that is clearly inadequate for this city. No matter how you measure it, it is inadequate. We simply do not have the FUNDS to provide necessary services to ALL the residents of this city. And, we should NOT be satisfied cutting necessary services to vainly save money. Cutting services to balance the budget won't CURE the real problem, it just hurts people and detracts from our quality of life and our civic pride.

The real problem: we've got to GET money from somewhere. The Congress doesn't want to give it. The taxpayers of Maryland and Virginia AIN'T gonna give it in the form of a commuter tax.

Here's a possible retrocession solution:

1. Reincorporate the majority of the district of Columbia into Maryland, creating Washington as a separately incorporated city of Maryland.

2. Carve out a small federal district including the Capital, the mall, and government offices to be governed by Congress at its expense.

3. The above actions are mandated by Congress, and by doing so, the Federal payments currently being given to the District would be given to Maryland (as an inducement). This "stipend" could be phased out over a period of, say, 25 to 50 years until the city of Washington functions more or less autonomously.

Andrew Frank


Merchant News

While walking home along 17th St tonight, I noticed that Carmella Kitty's, Flying Saucer Discs, and Dark Horse Books are all closed. Perhaps they've been closed for some time now (I don't always walk up the west side of 17th) but wondered if anyone knows what, when and why their demise.

Frank Gaffney/Valerie Kenyon


I was in Higger's last night and the video section was totally empty. When I asked one of the employees what was up, she said that the store would close on Saturday a nd reopen on Monday as a CVS. All of the current Higger's employees were being interviewed by CVS and if hired would be paid half their current salary. Needless to say, the ones I talked to were less than thrilled. I saw in the ol d NW Side Story (can't remember the new name) that Higger's and CVS were still discussing it but it looks like a done deal. I'd love to see your comments on a neighborhood store with a loyal following and a great selection. I really rely on Higger's for those last minute things I've forgotten at Giant as well as all of my prescriptions. I'll be sad to see hem go--especially Mr. Chapman's constant smile and kind words.

Keri Cooper



Anyone else out there have this experience? You dutifully pay your D.C. property tax by the semiannual deadline. Then your check is not cashed for many days. Recently, I mailed our tax payment on March 28. As of yesterday, April 9, it had not been collected from our account. Granted that many thousands of people must pay at the deadline. Wouldn't it make fiscal sense for D.C. to make arrangements to deposit this much-needed income ASAP?

Ted Gest 73652,



I don't know where you are getting your numbers about the schools, but may I suggest that before you start lobbying for school closure and staff reduction you visit some of the schools to see them for yourself, rather than rely on second hand reports. I have visited a number of DC public schools and found NONE of them to be underused or overstaffed. Quite the opposite: they looked OVERcrowded and UNDERstaffed. Makes me wonder about all of those who complain about empty schools and idle or underemployed teachers. Before you recommend the ax, I think you need to make sure that there actually are schools with few students rattling around empty halls, and then you need to figure out how to ensure that those schools are the ones closed, and not schools like the very popular and very overcrowded Oyster School, which I understand was on the hit list the last time the School Board considered school closings.

When you say the schools were built for 120,000, do you mean 120,000 divided into classes of 35 or 40 children each, with one teacher? That may have been acceptable 30 years ago, but today most would agree that a 35 or 40 to 1 ratio is unacceptable. Going back to that would be a grave disservice to our children. When you say the schools are overstaffed, I would like to know where all of these "excess" staff members are. I have not seem them in the classroom. If they are comprising useless bureaucracies, then of course they should be riffed, but I note that every time we cut funding for staff, it is much-needed teachers who are cut, not bureaucrats.

I look forward to seeing the results of any research you do on the school situation (perhaps you could analyze the budget and figure out where all the money is going?!) and hope you can come up with creative solutions to the very real problems faced by our children. They shouldn't be punished for the sins of our politicians.

[Are you looking only in Ward 3, where the schools are operating at or above capacity? The vacant schools exist in Wards 5, 7, and 8. For example, Taft Junior High School was build for 1,700 students and houses 322. Wash Times,, 8 April 96. P. c5. I've seen the studies and talked to teachers and administrators. And most city officials acknowledge the situation if not the problem. jeff itell]


Regarding the schools, part of the problem is a maldistribution of students -- Ward 3 schools are overcrowded, only in small number by the out of boundaries students attending, schools in the rest of the city are under populated. It light be interesting to check the correlation between school enrollment in Wards 3 and 4, compared to enrollment in 7 and 8. My guess is that schools in more affluent neighborhoods have more kids enrolled. I would exempt Banneker and other specialized schools from this count.

Margie siegel


dc. events

The monthly Coffee House sponsored by the Washington International Church will be held this Saturday (April 13) from 7:00 to 9:30 pm. There is no charge for the show, food and gourmet coffee. Donation in any amount is welcome. Comedy, cultural presentation from Japan and India are slated, plus a magic show grace the program. Great music featuring local talents will be enjoyed by all.

The Coffee House and the Washington International Church is located at the Fellowship Hall of the St. Luke's United Methodist Church on the corner of Wisconsin Ave., NW and Calvert St. Please call 298-6110 for more information. Visit our website

David Wong


Chevy Chase Citizens Association Tuesday, April 16, 1996, 7:30 p.m.

The speaker at our monthly meeting next Tuesday, April 16, will be John W. Hill, Jr., Executive Director of the Control Board. 7:30 p.m. at the Chevy Chase Community Center (Connecticut & McKinley N.W.). Call 202.244.5744.

Evelyn Mittman Wrin, President Chevy Chase Citizens Association


This is the Walker Peace Fellowship from St. Albans School. We wanted to let you know that we are holding a benefit concert on Saturday, May 18, in the amphitheater on Pigrim road, right next to the National Cathedral (the cathedral is on Wisconsin Avenue). There will be nine+ bands there, and maybe some speakers. Admission is 3 dollars, and the proceeds are going to Elementary Baseball, a program to help at-risk urban youth. There will be ice cream, pizza, and there may even be a 5K run. We will be sending more information as the date nears, including the specific time of the event.

Eric Eichler


Need help setting up an AOL account? Interested in learning how to create a free web page using AOL? Help offered to individuals and small businesses. Phil Shapiro. (202) 686-5465.


For fast, reliable Internet services and cutting edge Websites contact Michael Mann at Interstate Internet Web:


Jeffrey Itell Publisher: dc.story

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